Robert J. Kuntz Interviews

December 2016 — La Gazette du Donjon (France):


Rob Kuntz was recently interviewed by Antoine Poncin on behalf of French RPG magazine La Gazette du Donjon. His interview is due for publication in La Gazette in the coming weeks. Meanwhile it was published by French OD&D™ website Retroclone. Below is the original interview.


Interview Text © 2016, Robert J. Kuntz



1. Today, you are now living in France. Could you tell us how did this happen? We are happy to welcome you in our country.


RJK: I met my wife-to-be online while researching several books; and after a year of talking and corresponding we finally met up in Paris and stayed at the Hotel Kuntz there! No kidding. There’s a Hotel Kuntz in Paris and we now know its long history. We were married in Corsica in January after I’d moved to France in October of last year.



2. Your blog is called Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign and its banner says "When imagination was the only rule". What does it refer to? Which is this "original" campaign? And when you say "imagination WAS the only rule", does it mean that this not the case anymore in other campaigns?


RJK: The original campaign in Lake Geneva was the one that I played in as "Robilar", DMed Gary and others in, and also co-DMed with Gary Gygax, a shared environ that we would later forward as two separate entities: World of Greyhawk and World of Kalibruhn. I have written extensively on this merger of the two and so had Gary in past Dragon Magazine articles and elsewhere. There’s quite a lot of material and history there that was never published in the World of Greyhawk as a commercial product; and I never published my own world nor the many files that represent the original shared environ. The majority of maps and manuscripts from that time, 1972-1976, are included on my DVD Archive, now available as of October 26.


The imagination is what drives a Fantasy world interface. It’s mainly conceptual, making choices and decisions, promoting plots, fulfilling goals, etc. The rules are there to expedite the play interface and not get in the way of it, subvert it, or bog down the imagination’s expanding course.


The more one sides with the rules to replace play the more one’s imaginative structure becomes strictly limited by the mechanical sub-systems. The actual primary system in a conceptual game is comprised of the imaginative interchanges taking place between the omniscient DM and the inquiring players. These interactions produce visual imprints on the mind that inform us of what is actually taking place, and the rules come into use only when this imaginative play needs to be "adjudicated" in strict mechanical terms. It’s a fine balance that I have seen over the years become separated with the mechanics coming to the foreground and staying there. Thus when the imagination ruled there were more choices in RPG play, more story, more goals and thus from all angles more imaginative and creative momentum. With strict foregrounding of mechanics supplanting play these days one is lucky to get in and out of a dungeon in one sitting, whereas Gary and I and our players were imaginatively departing to other worlds, dimensional realms, and aggressively exploring Fantasy as an ever-expanding whole. I would say that the imaginative throttle then, during and after the play-tests of the game, was wide open and producing more and different choices and expression avenues for Fantasy and play. The current, commercially promoted RPG play model, however, is but a single strand, and a formulaic option at that, for investigating what is actually an infinite realm of Fantasy.


I also believe that when we invest in a fine balance between the two—imagination and mechanics—that this is where we experience the creative leaps that produce the evolutionary atmospheres in which unique concepts, like the Original D&D™ RPG, can manifest.



3. You are releasing your "Collected Works" in DVD format, entitled El Raja Key Archive. What is it to be found in these 4.8 GB of more than 1100 files? 


RJK: It’s full of maps (many in color) and manuscripts, my 16 levels for Greyhawk Castle, for instance, the entire maps for Castle El Raja Key, my own creation that was used in the play-tests of the D&D game in 1973-1975, and much more. Mostly unpublished material including illustrations of mine, whole unpublished adventures in long hand, the unpublished Kalibruhn Supplement for Original D&D, extensive material on my World of Kalibruhn (both versions, as I rendered two different versions of the world) and on the Original Campaign which became commercial Greyhawk, plus much, much more. Each file or group of files has extensive commentaries describing their history and make-up. It’s the first time this has been done with one of the founders of the industry. I’ve enclosed a sample for your readership. The DVD is currently available in English.



4. These last 9 years, you were busy researching and writing books to be released soon by your new firm, Three Line Studio. The first book (due end 2016) is Dave Arneson’s True Genius. According to you, what is Dave Arneson’s Genius?


RJK: Dave’s "main" genius contribution to the history of games and play is the melding of open and closed systems; and during a time period where closed system designs were still the norm. This coincided with upcoming historical shifts in science that were punching holes in reductionism and that had given rise to General Systems Theory (GST).


Arneson’s self-organized systems structure was unheard of. It twisted game theory inside out due to the fact that it was an ongoing conceptual immersion wherein its interdependent systems and sub-systems could co-evolve. In the book I list 28 social, scientific and historical impacts that this "Arnesonian Shift" accomplished, and many of them that to date have barely been investigated or even realized and explained.


According to you, too, what would be Gary Gygax’s Genius?


RJK: Gary’s fortes were many and varied, whereas Arneson’s were concentrated: his leadership, organization, and the ability to latch onto concepts and forward them in different ways, these all come to mind. His energy was unmatched by anyone I have met in life; he had great resolve and determination and the ability to get everyone involved at some distinct level within his oversight.



5. Your next books will be A New Ethos in Game Design – The Paradigm shift originated by Dungeons & Dragons 1972-1977 (2017) and later New Models for RPGs (2018). What will we find in these pages?


RJK: I’ll let part of the Preface to 'New Ethos' explain this in answer:


Beginnings are in part what this work is about. I examine Fantasy, play, games and fictional forms and note their application within RPGs, this very young hobby of ours that began over 40 years ago.


When one looks at the phrase by which we both comprehend and communicate to others what we play, that is, a Role Playing Game—or more specifically, a Fantasy Role Playing Game, as I am in this sense equating the fantastic to all such RPG vehicles that operate by use of our imaginations—they perceive its whole meaning, that is, as a symbol of what we do. But if one were to separate those words and was then asked to describe how each of these is realized, or how they might even differ from their base meanings or functionality, within a RPG, then that would be another matter entirely. The latter route is what I have tasked myself with in undertaking this work.


The essence of this work is contained in both my experiences over 40 years and my research for the past 8 years. They can be noted in the books parts...


Part One deals with the rise of the original RPG concept and focuses primarily on its form during its play-tests and thereafter as published and used commercially. Therein I reveal the concept’s mutability; and therein I also mark its demise through the redaction of its unique form by the very company that flourished while at first championing it.


...Part Two I had in fact considered publishing separately, but there was little way in divorcing it from matter contained in the other parts. In it I describe in detail the Open Form Concept. This is essential for understanding how the game’s immersive and expanding content is manipulated in game and play contexts. It is also a clarification and expansion of what was only summarized in Gary Gygax’s quotes from Classic Dungeons & Dragons, in his Alarums & Excursions letters, and in David Arneson’s interview quotes.


I have remained consistent with how the LGTSA members, and primarily how Gary and myself, used the concept during the game’s play-tests and thereafter. Thus the very concept that David Arneson utilized, introduced to the LGTSA, that we adapted and expanded upon during the game’s play-tests, and as thereafter used by thousands of GMs and players, is brought to light and clarified.


The major hurdle in describing the concept is its infinite applications in game terms, as each process attaching to the concept is both granular and intuitive to greater or lesser extents; and thus I have explained as much as is suitable for users to expand upon.


Though I provide guides that almost abut the idea of how-to processes I shy away from achieving the latter, just as Gary Gygax originally shied away from the idea of standardization of rules and play. This sides with completeness as derived through use, not by mechanistic methodology, but by way of an unfolding, open process in which the concept is used in part, in whole, or as expanded upon. While attempting to be as complete as possible in describing each subject, this in order to engage the reader with the subtle variances and relatedness of their parts, I have been forced to use many sentences to detail processes that in some instances can take place in seconds of game time. Unfortunately many written guides are beleaguered by this riddle; but I have remained as terse as possible considering the concept’s range and synthetic qualities.


I have also been mindful that its uses are many-fold in design and play; and thus I have opted for a description path divided between theory and practical application. I have included many examples in keeping with the latter and a glossary related to the former, though in both there will no doubt be found some overlap due to the concept’s granularity...


Now as to my book, New Models for Role Playing Games, that’s a big project, at the same time complimentary to yet different from ‘New Ethos'. To date I have created many models that can be implemented at different levels, tertiary to primary, within the conceptual range of a role playing experience. This harkens back to Arneson’s inferred "initial condition" system stance and to his concept’s apparent "ongoing systemization", the latter being a game-systems phrase that I coined to, in part, describe an applied open and evolving design philosophy.


Some of these models can be engaged as a primary overlay (i.e., as a template for a full-fledged RPG design) and others can by degree be integrated as differently evolved play/design attitudes. In summary the models point not only to the extensibility inherent to the open form concept that I describe in detail in ‘New Ethos’, but which further define multi-faceted thinking and design approaches. It is not only a plug-n-play models kit for designers but illustrates the ranges—the many different bandwidths and differing integrative languages—of open RPGs. I presage this in ‘New Ethos’ with a model I developed during the play-tests of D&D, the GGm, the "God Game" model, which is an integrative model that I created and successfully played 1974-1975 and that shifted the design base from the inverted pyramid of D&D (what I also refer to as the ‘corporate ladder’ model) by flattening it and thereafter moving laterally within its design scope and with no backward design perturbance.


Essentially I combined two models by systematically grafting them together and as was inferred by Arneson’s implicit ongoing systemization.


Right now I have 30 different models and expect to have nearly 50 when completed. The book’s textual matter will be heavily supplemented by diagrams. ‘New Models’ was being written concurrently with ‘New Ethos’ and I am very excited about it as it has allowed me to expand on what Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax and myself very early on recognized as a preeminent part of the original concept’s breadth.



6. You say that a Role Playing Game is a "living concept". What do you mean?


RJK: The concept as revealed in 1972 by Arneson to Gygax and to myself as the LGTSA president was still in the process of being iterated by him (First Fantasy Campaign/Blackmoor); and this foundational and functioning base (and in no way "primordial" as many to this day assume) was furthered through the LGTSA prism by testing its conceptual scope, i.e., in part by promoting different mechanical subsystems for it and in realizing that its conceptual interface range was, in combination with the subsystems, infinite. This shared process on distinct and progressed levels (Arneson & MMSA, Gygax & LGTSA, Gygax, Arneson and then Kuntz) produced Classic Dungeons & Dragons by Gygax and Arneson and its supplements; and significant for the latter, Greyhawk by Gygax and Kuntz, as this addition showed D&D consumers outside of the two aforementioned play-test circles the concept’s real potential for expandability.


Thus we have, right from the beginning, an elastic reality of two choice iterations of the same concept before D&D is even published whereupon its conceptual scope is made known to the public by way of the second iteration.


Gary’s and Arneson’s quotes are many regarding the base conceptual model being expandable. This is what I am referring to when I say that it is a "living concept". Arneson’s evolutionary design tenants broke with standardized design paths predicated on 'being' and by way of him solidly promoting "becoming" as the new base-line, what I refer to as either an "initial condition" or "current state", with the latter being the newest initial condition. In summary living has more to do in this instance with evolving. We have a contingent, evolving framework by way of Classic D&D that is unlike any other game in the history of games.



7. You use the term "progressive design". Could you explain it? And could you detail the difference between "open form" vs. a "closed model"?


RJK: The concept, progressive, is open to debate among designers and so this is my point of view. First one must establish what design is. That can be boiled down to an act of creation in every case, and as based upon kind and degree. So, level of creativity is the most relevant factor for the type of design being assessed or promoted. Starting there I will further define it by Viola Spolin’s (the mother of Improvisational Theater) general interpretation and then work towards more specific matter regarding what that means in our industry centered (pre-made products) or hobbyist centered (self-created products) spheres of design philosophy. Spolin asserts that, "Creativity is not the clever rearranging of the known."


By this focus we are prompted to see that to Spolin, at least, creativity and design merge at a spot beyond mere "innovation". The latter, depending upon the degree and kind, is part of what I refer to and recognize within myself as a counterpoint to the "clever rearranging of the known". Thus creativity in her view was synonymous with originality. So progressive design is original design. And original design, in my view, is something that adds before unrealized value, with the later being a wildly variable point depending on individual designer and consumer expectations.


For example, if we merely tweak the game Monopoly a little bit and add some "features" to it that are not found in the original game we are taking a template and adjusting it slightly. This is not original and falls into the category of innovation or for the design having been "promoted". Likewise the advent of the fork was original; and silver-plating it or adding a monogram to it is mere embellishment but adds no additional real value to its base use as a fork even if it does look better on display in a China cabinet.


What Arneson achieved by originating the RPG game engine was progressive as it had never before existed; what others do with his RPG concept today are mostly promotions or lateral shifts of it that differentiate the conceptual base ever so slightly—mostly due to a massive display of overlaid templates and different mechanics—but do not significantly move beyond the conceptual model’s base. There is more chance of moving Arneson’s conceptual model in real terms through the hobbyist portion of RPGs, which is where it was originated to begin with, than through the industry portion of it where, in the latter case, the market tends to become insular and slow moving regarding change and progression. Look for the "New Arnesons" to push progressive design from a radical thinking part of the hobby and not from within the small to larger or largest segments of the entrenched establishment.


8. Your outfit, Three Line Studio, has published a new D&D™ compatible adventure of yours—you said that it derives from something you created for GENCON way in the past... — could you tell us more today?


RJK: Sure! It’s quite a long project, so to speak. Sunken City was originally designed by me as the GENCON VIII (1975) tournament adventure in three rounds and for prizes. It is the first and oldest convention tournament module in history, being 41 years old.


The adventure was sampled from my World of Kalibruhn adventure/locale Sunken City of Kalibruhn, a much larger and involved environ. The adventure describes entering the city, introduces unique system for navigating the wreckage, details the strange story behind why it was sunk (by a god, no less) and what has transpired within its confines since then. As with most of my adventures there’s lots of new "stuff" in it (monsters, magic, spells, etc.) which is how I keep the wonder level high. Lots of detail; and ultimately usable in any campaign setting as it is a self-contained environ.


The original color map for it that I drew in 1975 is a free PDF download and the adventure itself is the first release in our Three Little Books line. It weighs in at 40 printed pages. The map’s color coding is needed for ascertaining and negotiating with many different aspects of the city as described in the text, so a B&W version would not have worked. The reaction to it, so far, is that it is challenging and fun. There’s lots of twists and turns, several environ plots and power struggle groups to control, avoid or combat, watery ghosts and curses, even an ex-pirate’s necromantic parrot named Gigi! You name something from a cursed and sunken grave of a city and I have probably covered it with Sunken City.



9. Greyhawk is a dungeon. It is a castle. It is a city. It is a world. So it was made from down to up as we can say. What was the motivation behind this expansion as you witnessed it ? And what would you have added to it if you had the chance to do it ?


RJK: Sure, Greyhawk is all that, but mostly it’s an ongoing idea. It’s a landscape of the mind for summoning, and interacting with, Fantasy. The parts you name are in fact pieces in that play, that fantastic immersion with the unknown. Unlike a fiction piece that is scripted and must obey its course RPG immersion either unfolds a step at a time or can spring forward with giant-sized leaps. So the motivation behind expanding Greyhawk was to continue investigating the unknown, the same motivation one gets from a good page-turner piece of fiction. But in this case you are creating the script in situ, not acting it out according to rote. That’s the real essence of the game, whether in Greyhawk or Blackmoor or other: being there. If you’ve got a good DM, you’re there, immersed and having fun. If not... well, you get to roll some dice and have some fun. So between and amongst our players and Gary and myself, Greyhawk was enchantment; and you always knew that you’d been there when you were an hour or more late in heading home, as real immersive Fantasy obeys no time but its own.


There were sound plans by myself and Gary for different Greyhawk products before TSR shelved the world for political reasons. I even wrote a comprehensive Greyhawk Marketing Plan for WotC when they assumed control of TSR in 1997 and when Gary and I hoped that those politics had finally ended. Greyhawk’s new jailers, well, they never got back to us on that plan of mine, proving that Greyhawk 'politics' were still in force.


So, ultimately, the only thing I would have added to Greyhawk is much more of it and on many design levels that had never been seen or experienced before. I was doing exactly that with the Maure Castle series before that plug was pulled by WotC reclaiming the Dungeon Magazine license from Paizo Publishing.


Today I am still left to realize such design potentials outside of the Greyhawk name and brand, it just doesn’t reach as many people and can’t be called Greyhawk; and since the brand is held prisoner, and as Gary has passed, my own inclination for Greyhawk has passed as well. Unfortunately the preeminent world for D&D became a historical footnote. But, as an idea, well, it still survives, doesn’t it?



10. According to you, what would be the "spirit" of Greyhawk?


You saved the shortest question for last!


The spirit of Greyhawk is the same as the spirit of the Original D&D game. And that’s the ability to set your mind and hands to it and make it uniquely your own. This proves that sometimes the greatest ideas are the simplest ones and don’t have to be complicated or expensive while still being complex and engaging. So the spirit of Greyhawk is indeed the spirit of one’s applied imagination, free, unrestrained and, unlike a material product that is but a foil for the hand that wields it, everlasting.


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